Monday, June 18, 2012

Vikram Gandhi's KUMARÉ may be the most important, funniest, surprising film this year

Why do we need "spiritual leaders"? This is the question that filmmaker and faux guru Vikram Gandhi asks himself and that leads this Jersey boy (granted he's got East Indian roots) to go way out on a limb and impersonate a guru -- even if the SL (short for spiritu-al leader) he quickly becomes insists on telling his flock that he is nothing more than a fake. Do they listen? Of course not. Oh, they hear him, all right, but they imagine (as many of us might) that this statement simply shows his true humility coming to the fore. Fore!

In a mere 83 minutes, Vikram (shown in his street drag, at left) takes us on a journey that so far as I know, has no peer in film history or maybe history of any kind. Ah: You say there have always been plenty of fake gurus and other SLs dotting the landscape of any and every country. True. But have any of these refused to accept financial gain from their acolytes, warned them that they were fakes and then set out to teach them what is perhaps the most important lesson, vis a vis religion and spirituality, that they will ever learn? That's right: Give a look and a listen to this movie, and you may find your world turned upside down.

Not only does KUMARÉ, the man and the movie, question the relevancy and reality of any kind of SL, but in taking its philosophy to a sensible conclusion, it actually questions the reality and relevancy of any kind of organized religion. We all, Kumaré tells his flock, have the ability within us to understand ourselves and our needs and to make correct decisions regarding our lives and our place in the world. Well, this is a shockeroo. What's more, Kumaré gets his group to pretty much manage this on their own. We're talking something revolutionary here -- thinking for oneself -- if only we hoi polloi could rise to the occasion.

The above is what makes the movie so important: the kind of film of which I believe that someone like Mathew Chapman, who last year gave us the very good and also revolutionary movie The Ledge, would approve. As our world seems to grow smaller, yet ever more fundamentalist and less secular, what a joy it is to see someone like Mr. Gandhi so easily and beautifully pop the bloated balloon of religion -- by simply placing the burden of responsibility on us.

What makes the movie so god-damned entertaining, however, is the skill, charm and ease with which Gandhi and his crew (including his two young-lady assistants: Purva Bedi, shown above, and Kristen Galgaro, shown below) -- and, yes, the disciples that he seduces -- bring to the movie. Together, they wrap us up so strong-ly in the situation that we end up identifying with and caring about everyone involved. We laugh at them, sure, but not in any nasty way. What's going on is simply so funny and unusual and finally surprising that we're hooked for good within a very few minutes.

The first half of Kumaré is perhaps the funniest movie I've seen all year, maybe several. The laughs come fast and hard, and because they're so clearly arriving from a place of "reality," nothing falls flat. Then an odd thing happens. At the advance screening I attended, only one other press person was present. The rest of audience was made up of young people whom the producers and its distributor Kino Lorber were hoping would enjoy the film and recommend it to their friends. They certainly managed the first directive; I have not heard this much laughter in a theater in a long time. And these are not the kind of snarky, nasty laughs that come from a Sacha Baron Cohen endeavor. As funny as the situation and characters are, you actually grow to care about Kumaré's disciples, as much, it seems, as the guru himself eventually does.

And then, around the halfway point, something strange happens. The laughter begins to subside, as questions arise in the mind of the filmmaker and (I suspect) that of us in the audience, as to how Mr Gandhi is going to get out of this situation, and what will happen to him and to his disciples (one of whom is shown above), once the truth is known. It is this concern that takes up the remainder of the film, and how it resolves itself is suspenseful, sad, funny -- and somehow, given the game/ruse in play, also quite fair and honor-able. So consider this a heads-up: If you don't see Kumaré, you'll have missed the best and most important film of the year so far.

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At the end of the screening Mr. Gandhi (above) appeared, along with one of his producers (Brendan Colthurst, shown below), to do a Q&A with us in the audience. The filmmaker proved as special as we might have expected, given what we'd just witnessed in the theater: demure, easy-going, sporting no attitude but willing to answer every question directly and with no apparent agenda other than to explain. Granted, one should never be so naive as to take anything or anyone at face value. But with Vikram it was pretty difficult not to, as he answered question after question about the film's history and beginnings, told us about himself and his family, how his "disciples" reacted to the cameras being present, any lawsuits resulting from the movie (none yet), and how he came up with his very special (non-regional) East Indian accent, which he then launched into it on the spot.

TM didn't realize in advance that Mr. Gandhi was going to be in attendance, or he would have brought his recorder, stayed for the entire Q&A, and transcribed it for your edification. That chance is now over, but should you get the opportunity to see and hear this fellow in person, take it. He seems as special and real as does his lovely, funny and oh-so-meaningful movie.

Kumaré opens this Wednesday, June 20, in New York City at the IFC Center, where you can see director Vikram Gandhi in person both Wednesday, June 20, & Thursday, June 21, at the 6:20 & 8:25pm shows. The movie -- 83 minutes, from Kino Lorber -- will also be playing around the country in California, Colorado and Washington State. Click here to see all currently schedule playdates, with cities and theaters.

2 comments:

Club 108 said...

I think the most important thing Vikram Gandhi does in this film is take a subtle, dynamic, and honest look at the guru-disciple relationship.

He shows that the guru-disciple relationship is not something that can be so easily dismissed or condemned.

I share two timely pieces I wrote recently with speak to the themes of the guru explored in "Kumare"

"Guides, Gurus, and Grounding In Our Spiritual Journey" (Huff Post Religion)
huff.to/NpuNw3

"Gurus And The Cult of Relativity"
(Elephant Journal)
bit.ly/LVAdDc

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for posting, Club 108! I agree with you regarding the importance of Vikram's take on the guru/disciple relationship, but I also think that he sees that relationship as more important to and coming from the disciple rather than the guru. As he should. Any kind of real spirituality and faith must come from within, and it will always remain very much an individual thing. Your faith cannot be mine, just as you cannot be me. This, of course, is the big problem with all organized religions.

Also, as Vikram understands, there are far too many fakes around (as there have always been) and not nearly enough real spiritual leaders. And you are right in saying (in your Elephant piece) that your argument is like trying to convince an atheist of god's existence. It's a lost (and quite unnecessary) cause.